The rules for employing kids are changing
Published: November 15,2011
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has proposed revisions to child labor regulations. The DOL is pushing for stronger safety requirements for young workers employed in agriculture as well as other related fields.
The federal child labor laws were authorized by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938. Child labor laws were enacted “to ensure that when young people work, the work is safe and does not jeopardize their health, well-being or educational opportunities.” The Wage and Hour Division of the DOL is the sole agency responsible for enforcing these federal child labor laws. The FLSA has not been updated since 1970, although many states have enacted stricter rules for young workers since then.
Specific proposals prohibit young farm workers under 16 years old from cultivating, harvesting and curing tobacco. They also prohibit young farm workers from working with animals, handling pesticides, or working in timber operations, manure pits and storage bins. The new rules also bar young workers from using electronic devices while operating power-driven equipment in both agricultural and non-agricultural work environments.
The proposals disallow farm workers under 16 from operating most power-driven equipment at all where the same non-agricultural child labor law has existed for over 50 years. However, some young workers will have limited exemptions to operate certain farm equipment provided they are equipped with rollover protection structures and seat belts. Have you seen a John Deere with rollover protection?
The proposed regulations do not apply to children working on farms owned by their parents.
The DOL’s proposals include a new non-agricultural hazardous occupations order preventing youth under 18 from employment in agricultural jobs involving storing, marketing and transporting farm product raw materials. They also are prohibited from working in country grain elevators, grain bins, and silos, feed lots, stockyards, livestock exchanges and auctions.
According to the DOL, the proposals are based on enforcement experience as well as recommendations by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the DOL’s commitment to bring uniformity between rules for young workers holding agricultural jobs and the more strict rules applied to young workers in non-agricultural workplaces.
According to Secretary of Labor, Hilda L. Solis, “Children employed in agriculture are some of the most vulnerable workers in America. Ensuring their welfare is a priority of the department.”
These proposed rules are currently in an extended comment period. If an employer or trade association objects to or supports the proposed rules, all comments should be submitted to the DOL on or before December 1st. The comment period has been extended by the DOL based on the “interest that has been expressed in this matter.” I encourage impacted employers and employer groups to participate in the rule-making process by submitting comments through the Federal eRulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov.
Certain industries in Idaho will be impacted more than others, such as agriculture; however, the breadth of these rules will result in impact to most industries that employ any minors. For instance, a golf course will need to have a policy prohibiting minor employees from using electronic devices while operating golf carts. I worked at a golf course with a restaurant starting at age 14, driving many sandwiches to golfers in golf carts.
Federal regulations, once final, have the force and effect of laws passed by Congress, making participation in the rule-making process critical. Objecting to a federal agency’s enforcement of regulations, once final, is futile and can create an obstacle to amicable settlement of a matter under investigation. In other words, this is your opportunity to voice objection (or support) of the proposed rules, explaining the impact these rules would have on your business.
To view the proposed new rules, visit the DOL’s website – http://webapps.dol.gov/FederalRegister/.
Anne B. Wilde is an employment and ERISA employee benefits attorney. She is the Principal of The HR & Benefits Advisor, PLLC, which advises employers and plan sponsors. Anne can be reached at anne@TheHRandBenefitsAdvisor.com or www.TheHRandBenefitsAdvisor.com.